Wednesday On Writing: Should You Start Revising a Story as Soon as You Finish a Draft?

I have been busy for the last year writing the third installment of my urban fantasy series. The first draft is now done, and I am letting it sit for a while before I dive into the revision process. I do this with most of my writing, and many other writers do, as well.

Why? Well, for one thing, by the time you have slogged your way through a draft, whether it is the first or the fiftieth, you can end up a bit burned out on the story. You’ve been living with it daily for a long time. In the case of a novel length story, that can be years for a first draft. Okay, if it takes years, it sometimes isn’t worked at every day, but the majority are likely to have been spent working on it. Your brain may just not want to keep slogging away at it. Taking a break lets you pull back a little and reset the enthusiasm for this thing. And you need to be eager to work on it for revisions to not be a dragging chore.

The opposite can happen, as well. You might be so excited and in love with the idea as it played out while you were drafting that you can’t be objective. This is especially true when you are faced with revising a first draft. It is a rare occurrence when a first draft is perfect. And if you are so enthused about what you wrote, sometimes you just can’t see the problems and tweaks that need to be made.

I am lucky in that most of my first drafts are decent when I finish. I have usually turned the story around in my head for so long, I have a pretty decent feel for what’s going on and so my draft is generally okay. Note I did not say perfect nor did I say it never needs work. There is always something (usually some things) that need to be addressed: a character arc needs shoring up, some fiddly bit needs expanding or explaining, plot holes need filling in. And that’s where writing an almost-good draft can hurt. So, I find I need some distance so I can read through the story with more objectivity and less wow factor.

How long should it sit? That’s something you have to work out for yourself. I know some writers who can pick up a story for revising in a few days. Others may let it sit for months. For me, the sweet spot is about 2-3 weeks. By then, not only am I able to read with a clear eye for the parts that need work, but I have also gotten back to the point of really wanting to write this story again.

Don’t be afraid to let a draft sit untouched for a bit before revising. Unless you are working against a hard deadline, a bit of space and breathing room will only help both you and your story.



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